Swine flu hit CSU especially hard this week as the number of confirmed or probable cases of the H1N1 virus rose from 60 to about 400 in a matter of days.
University officials said Hartshorn Health Center verified 45 cases of H1N1 infection on Wednesday alone, contributing to an estimated total of 215 active cases on campus — a number expected to rise steadily.
“We’re likely on the front end of this without knowing exactly where it will takes us,” said Anne Hudgens, dean of students.
Activity at Hartshorn Health Center has “increased dramatically,” to more than 500 visits Wednesday, Hudgens said. And officials have seen an almost daily increase in the number of students reporting flu symptoms.
The university is telling students with symptoms not to attend class or go to the health center except in the case of an emergency, citing a need to limit spreading the illness and the debilitating influx of patients to its clinic.
“We don’t want people to go to work. We don’t want people to go to class. That’s most effective from a public health standpoint,” Hudgens said.
Because no seasonal influenza strains are yet active, CSU is treating the hundreds of flu-like illnesses reported to its clinic, residence life staff and an online reporting system as the H1N1 virus.
The online tool is the best way for students to report their symptoms and remain self-isolated, Hudgens said.
The tool, which she said resulted from “a great deal of thought and effort” and called an “accomplishment,” is accessible through RamWeb and allows students to describe their symptoms.
If those symptoms indicate an H1N1 infection, the program sends notification e-mails to all of the student’s instructors, excusing that student from all classes for a five to 10-day recovery period.
“You can’t be sick for chemistry and not be sick for speech,” Hudgens said. “You’re either sick or you’re not.”
The tool can only be used once, so healthy students who misuse the tool cannot use it again if they actually do contract the virus, something that Hudgens said provides “some limit to the Ferris Bueller factor.”
While most sick students should simply ride out their illness, Hudgens said anyone who has pre-existing conditions, a compromised immune system or feels they are in real need of medical attention should seek help.
Hudgens said only one CSU faculty member and two staff members had self-reported with the Internet tool, and said she could not estimate the number of faculty or staff infected at this time.
CU-Boulder experienced a similar surge of the virus last week, but reports tapered off around 100. The university has reported about 370 cases of flu-like symptoms since Aug. 1.
CU spokesperson Bronson Hilliard said, while his university is no longer testing every student with flu-like symptoms, it too is treating any student with symptoms as an H1N1 case, adding “any campus worth its salt” would do the same.
“We believe virtually all those students complaining of symptoms have H1N1,” Hilliard said, adding that the odds of them having any other illness are remote.
Nate Haas, spokesperson for the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, said UNC has not asked students to report individually, but has been following the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations: self isolation and hand washing.
He said UNC has “a few” confirmed cases of H1N1.
News Editor Jim Sojourner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.